When I wake in the morning I have noticed that in that first moment when I realise I am conscious I feel this kind of yuckiness or sinking feeling. I'm not sure quite how to describe it. I guess it's dukkha? It's a daily realisation about where I am and the effort and discomfort that entails. I don't want to face the daily struggle to survive life. When I'm on retreat I wake up fresh and light with a sense of joyous wonder about what is ahead. I am completely different person. The person I want to be. I suppose retreat isn't really reality. It's like a bubble frozen in time, buffered from external stress. But I want to feel like this in my daily life. I want to wake up and feel like I'm glad to be alive but I don't. I feel more like a slave or a pawn trapped in a shitty capitalist system, being used to prop up the greedy and powerful. I don't feel free in any way. I feel weighed down. what advice can you give me about this? Do I need to try and change how I'm seeing things and if so how? How do I have more of the energised joyous wonder??
The main principle of happiness and freedom, especially emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism, is unselfishness:
(1) We feel concerns about ourselves, and about various conditions which also focus into ourselves.
These concerns are created by fixations on good and bad - as they exist from our point of view.
For example, I see the modern human world as cruel, unjust, full of stupidity, destroying the life on Earth, doomed.
But that view comes from my particular perspective. If I take into account that in the past millions of people in Europe died from plague and famine, and many were burned alive for their views, I could understand that some progress actually happened.
We can conduct an experiment: think about the same ugly things when we are in a good mood. Then probably negative thoughts would not stay for so long, they would not occupy our mind.
That experiment shows that habitual thoughts accompany our emotional state. In an easy state we would have more optimistic view on the same problems.
(2) We can drop our self-centered concerns, and shift our attention to caring about others.
You might say it looks like too simple idea to really work well, but then let me ask: have you tried?
Mahayana has thoroughly developed system, called the way of perfections (paramitas). Most often we speak about Six paramitas (they are the main core of the path).
- Giving selflessly drops our egoistic burden. Every time we give without egoistic concerns, we return a step back to our original unconstrained and natural feeling.
- Discipline means to keep our wholeness despite habits and distractions which try to carry us away from our natural heart.
- Patience is an art of remaining relaxed. We have habits to be dissatisfied, to rush somewhere else rather than to be just here. Patience means we want to live every moment in complete wholesome manner. Not wasting our life in chasing feverish desires, not escaping this moment to self-compressed heat of constraint.
- Enthusiasm comes from understanding that if we remain passive then our energy dissipates, and we live in dull, gray world.
- Concentration is all the previous perfections together:
- Relaxed presence.
- Energy of joyful deeds.
Moreover, concentration means gathering of all our abilities, experience and knowledge, all our skills and open vision in the focus of being completely now.
It means we are able to control our mind, because it's not scattered; distractions can't catch it so easily.
It means prajna - the ability to see everything as it is. It guides our practice of all the other five paramitas. And these five paramitas in turn create open, clean mind, which means the mind of wisdom.
That way we actually drop oppositions and concerns. We have no burden anymore. We naturally are doing something to make the world more beautifil, but we definitely understand that doing that we don't need to make ourselves suffer.
PS. Several practical tips
1. Take the responsibility
Ordinary attitude is: "The world is so bad that my life is in misery, and I can't do anything about it".
Better attitude is: "Whatever be the world, I wish to use my life for the benefit of all beings".
Letting conditions make me waste my life has no sense. So regardless of conditions I decide to use my life wisely.
With that in mind, make a resolution to be responsible for your life and death by yourself, not letting adverse conditions make you useless.
2. Drop inner oppositions
Ordinary attitude is: "I should force myself to be a decent, effective person".
Better attitude is: "Whatever qualities I manifest, it's a resource and a field of exploration".
Trying to force themselves, people divide in themselves, try to manipulate with themselves and act against themselves. That leads to wasting efforts in struggles and creating inner resistance to our own endeavors.
With that in mind, you decide to accept whatever manifests in your mental continuum as a resource and a field of exploration - not struggling with that, but dissolving oppositions.
These two decisions can transfer you from a position of a victim to a function of explorer and scientist who studies how to improve human life for the benefit of all sentient beings.
You can leave the shitty capitalist system; which is often an inhumane daily struggle to survive life. Permanent retreat is an alternate reality, such as here: http://www.wbd.org.au/
Otherwise, try to find a job you enjoy, which can be difficult. It is important to enjoy our work.
While reflecting positively & gratefully towards work is the right method; in the modern world often work is contrary to our personal ethics, which is what makes it hard, difficult to enjoy & appreciate.
Your question made me think of this - https://youtu.be/1zdjYmhrA-A . Frankly, I don't think it would hurt to start by having a sense of humor about your situation. It will give you some perspective and help you distance yourself from the more oppressive aspects. As Zen writer Katsuki Sekida says, laughter truly is "the safety valve of the world."
What really stood out in your question, however, was this comment - "I don't feel free in any way." Of course you don't. Because you're not. Right now, your vision of reality is trapping you between the way you think things ought to be and the way they actually are. The relief you find on retreat is really only a temporary vacation. I think you'd be just as well served if you spent a week sipping cocktails in the Bahamas. It's really a fantasy to believe that there is some place in the world or some potential situation that will afford you some sort of perennial happiness. After all, retreats end, the girl serving your drinks in a pineapple gets old, and hell, the beach itself will probably be under thirty feet of water in a couple of years.
Fundamentally, you have to change your mind. This can't be arrived at through any amount of convincing or revelatory words. The only way to do that is through the sweat and tears that come with consistent practice. You need to find a sangha and a teacher. You need to sit regularly. You need to have faith in the process. No matter how low you sink, no matter how hopeless things become, you have to take up the jewels as your refuge and keep going. Things will get better.